Marketing To Latinos: 'We Don't Fit Into A Box'

Latinos are one of the fastest growing segments of the population, but marketers aren't always keeping up with them. Host Michel Martin speaks with Chiqui Cartagena, the Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Univision, and author of Latino Boom II.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. In a few minutes, we'll talk about a painful rift in the civil rights community. We'll talk about why the famed singer and activist Harry Belafonte is taking the surviving children of Martin Luther King Jr. to court, and why they have, in turn, taken others to court. But first, we want to continue the conversation we started earlier this hour.

Earlier, we were talking about immigration and the obstacles to immigration reform, but that's just one side of the equation. On the other side of the equation is the opportunity presented by the large and growing Latino population, which now represents the country's largest minority group. Faced with that reality, business leaders and the media are rethinking the way they communicate with Latinos. We wanted to know more about that, so we've called Chiqui Cartagena, a veteran marketing executive. She's now vice president of corporate marketing for Univision Communications, and she's the author of several books. Her latest is "Latino Boom II." And she's with us now. Welcome.

CHIQUI CARTAGENA: Thank you.

MARTIN: Why boom? What's booming?

CARTAGENA: Well, actually, there's a lot booming. But there's a metaphorical reference here. The subtitle of my book is "Catch the Biggest Demographic Wave Since the Baby Boom." And I believe the Latino boom is the next baby boom, and it will affect the American economy for the next 50 years or more.

MARTIN: I just want to give a data point. One of the things that you say in the book is that Hispanic audiences are at the center of a perfect storm brewing in the media world, with a median age of 29 versus 41 for non-Hispanic whites. Latinos are smack in the middle of the bulls-eye for companies that are interested in reaching young adults. So why? Is it just the size of the potential market overall? What?

CARTAGENA: It's the size and the growth. Obviously, when you look at the size of the Latino market, it's right now 53 million strong, but it's projected to be 132 million by 2050. But in addition to that, if you are only to focus on the millennials, which is the big other demographic group that people tend to focus on, we are already one-quarter of all millennials, soon to one-third, of all millennials. And this is really the demographic that people as marketers are looking to tap into because those are the people that you'll be able to get loyalty out of in the long run.

MARTIN: What do you think is the main mistake, or the leading mistake, that companies make in marketing to Latinos?

CARTAGENA: Well, I think it's not being educated, making assumptions about what you think the Hispanic market is and not investing properly in the research. You need to understand who your target consumer is and also understand where they are in your product lifecycle. A perfect example of that is Oreo cookies. You've seen the commercials on English-language television. I'm remembering one right now where the dad is in Tokyo, and he's on his iPad, and he's talking to his little kid, and they're sharing an Oreo cookie and then they say good night. The Spanish-language version of that commercial, because Latino kids don't have that history with this Oreo cookies, right?

So, smartly, the brand said, you know what? We need to teach the Latino parents about the tradition. So the Spanish-language commercial starts with a kid running into the dad's office, daddy, look what I learned today in school. And he pulls out a box of Oreo cookies, and he says, let me teach you how to do it. You open it, you lick it, you dunk it, and you eat it. And so it's the kid teaching the dad, right? This is how you eat an Oreo cookie.

MARTIN: Speaking of language, you know, Univision is the dominant channel in a number of markets. Some people feel that that's not a good thing because it keeps people Spanish-dominant when they need English skills to thrive and to move up into the marketplace. So language is a tricky thing. How do you address...

CARTAGENA: Well, it is and it isn't.

MARTIN: Yeah, go ahead.

CARTAGENA: I mean, I think language is - obviously, we're in the United States, and English is the official language of the United States. But this is a country where speaking other languages is somewhat, like, looked down upon. I think people - language is not as important as culture. And I think what the Latino-American experience is showing people is that it is not anti-American to speak Spanish and to be proud of your heritage.

MARTIN: When it comes to media, you point out in the book that some of the most popular programs for Latinos are telenovelas, soccer events, sporting events. But you also say that Latinos have yet to have their "Cosby Show" moment, where a popular, mainstream television show depicts their life in the United States. Do you mind if I use the word normalizes it? If it's OK to, you know, say it that way.

CARTAGENA: Sure.

MARTIN: You know...

CARTAGENA: Mainstreams it.

MARTIN: Yeah, yeah.

CARTAGENA: I mean, it's hard to define America, right?

MARTIN: Exactly. Right. Well, why do you think that is?

CARTAGENA: Well, I mean, I...

MARTIN: And, you know, I assume you don't count "Ugly Betty."

CARTAGENA: Well, I mean, you know, I think what Cosby did for the African-American community was sort of say, hey, you know, we're part of America. And I do - I would love, personally, to see a show that - I thought "Ugly Betty" got close to being that, except for the difference between "Ugly Betty" was that the way our community was portrayed was not normal at all. There's still not that one show that really shows us in a way that everybody can say, oh.

And, you know, the funny thing is that with intermarriage growing - I mean, intermarriage has doubled in this country over the past two decades. And I think that intermixing of cultures will soon be better reflected on screen and in television in the United States, but we're far from it.

MARTIN: With all due respect, though, there are many people who find the images in Spanish-language media lacking. Many people find the depictions of women disturbing, the depictions of men disturbing. You talked about kind of, you know, being histrionic and also the racial dynamics, you know, light skin being featured predominantly. And so...

CARTAGENA: I mean, I think part of the depictions that we see on Spanish-language television really are - have to be judged from a cultural perspective more than, like, an American perspective looking in.

MARTIN: So basically, if there are racist imagery - if there's racist imagery in Spanish-language media, that that's OK?

CARTAGENA: No, no.

MARTIN: That's acceptable because it's cultural.

CARTAGENA: No, not at all.

MARTIN: I mean, come on.

CARTAGENA: No, no, no.

MARTIN: So...

CARTAGENA: I wasn't actually saying that any of the racist portrayals - I mean, but I think there is a growing show of diverse colors and of people of color in our - in our shows. And I think, you know, it's only going to get better as we keep on producing more new cable networks and other things. But, you know, I'm not here to say that what might seem racist is totally OK.

MARTIN: What kind of conversation do you think that we'll be having five years from now?

CARTAGENA: Well, and this dovetails into the race conversation and what I was trying to allude to earlier with the intermarriage. I think identity is perhaps the most interesting question that is facing this country because Latinos are defying the census definition because they don't fit into a box. We don't fit into the white box or the black box or the Asian box. We're a mix, and so I think the race conversation is being had that way. And that's why I was struggling answering your question because I don't - you know, it's not black and white in our culture. It's brown. And so people who are of Latino heritage are never confronted with the race issue until they come to this country, when they're asked to define themselves.

Well, do you belong to the white box or the black box? And that's when they say, no, I don't belong to either box. And I think that's where the conversation about race is going in this country. You know, my nieces and nephews, I hang out with them, and they're often hanging out with people of color, and they would never use that term - people of color. They're just like, hey, Tia Chiqui, there's my friend Omar. You know, he's from Bahrain. You know, it does not matter to them.

MARTIN: Chiqui Cartagena is the vice president of corporate marketing for Univision Communications. Her latest book is "Latino Boom II: Catch the Biggest Demographic Wave Since the Baby Boom." And she was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Chiqui Cartagena, thanks so much for speaking with us.

CARTAGENA: Thank you, Michel.

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